Posts Tagged ‘helen cassidy

03
Feb
15

Boston Marriage

 

Boston Marriage

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

January 24 – February 15 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

AD LIBITUM

towards pleasure

 

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“Acting, which takes place in front of an audience, is not as the academic model would have us believe. It is not a test. It is an art, and it requires not tidiness, not paint-by-numbers intellectuality, but immediacy and courage…

 

In life there is no emotional preparation for loss, grief, surprise, betrayal, discovery; and there is none on stage either.”

David Mamet

 

Did you know? Despite the fact that Massachusetts, in 2004, became the first American state to legalise same-sex marriage, a “Boston Marriage” didn’t originally imply only a sexually active relationship, but also a platonic one between two women of independent means.

 

You might not know this either (I tend not to tell people so there’s no reason you would), but I’m not fond of flying. I KNOW. I don’t love it. In fact, I really don’t like it at all. I LOVE CRUISING. But I hate flying. I hate the hold-your-breath moments of the take off and the landing and I remember crying once all the way through a bit of bad turbulence. It was a flight to Hobart, a really looong flight, for a funeral. Typical. Way to set the mood, Universe…

 

This probably helps to explain why I’m not quite as well travelled as I would like to be (that, and my penchant for fine food and wine). On a plane, as soon as I’m seated, I click the belt closed, and check it, and tighten it to make my waist approximately size 4 (I’m already holding my breath in case something bad happens so no probs there), and all my energy goes into surviving enjoying that flight. I try to think I’m not even on a plane! Usually I try to do this by reading. I read A LOT. FAST. I read the safety chart, the papers, the in-flight mag, the script that Sam is supposed to be reading, the pages of whatever the person in front of me is reading (no, it’s not creepy; it’s resourceful) and at least one novel before we get to where we’re going. But the other week, coming home from Auckland, a movie caught my eye and I watched it. And I forgot I was miraculously supported in mid air by a complex set of mechanical and aerodynamical MIRACLES. It was Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, starring Colin Firth. I was completely absorbed. And not entirely due to Colin Firth’s presence (yes, I’m a fan, which also explains Hugh Parker’s appeal, doesn’t it? I’ve mentioned that before). It’s a sweet, funny film.

 

Magic in the Moonlight follows Firth’s character as he attempts to unmask Emma Stone’s character. She claims she’s a mentalist, and runs around the country hosting séances with her MOTHER. ANYWAY, hosting or attending a séance was once A THING and it’s A THING that is used by David Mamet in Boston Marriage to a) add a presumably highly amusing plot twist and b) take away any sort of sense that he had almost begun making before any mention by his leading ladies of a séance. Magic in the Moonlight is really A LOVELY FILM. And Colin Firth and Emma Stone are really LOVELY. LOOK…

 

 

 

 

Now, what a very interesting conversation we can have about QTC’s production of Mamet’s Boston Marriage. This is the first show of the year for our state theatre company, and it’s certainly difficult, but it’s also quite delightful! (It was Mamet who said we come to the theatre to be delighted!). I say you’ll come to Boston Marriage and be delighted, and perhaps, well, possibly slightly disenchanted… Oh well!

 

 

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While Mamet is not always for everyone, this production, directed by Andrea Moor, a massive fan of Mamet and a Practical Aesthetics aficionado, offers an especially inviting point of access in her exceptional cast; strong performances that give us whole, hilarious characters. With a B-Grade plot (yes it’s Mamet but not as we know him), and characters and devices to distract us from the fact, Boston Marriage is an intentionally pretentious comedy of errors set in one lavish room featuring three female performers. It’s unique in Mamet’s repertoire, as he wrote mostly ghastly male characters; you’ll know the fast-talking guys in Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow (the latter was given new life at the cinema as Wag the Dog). Although there was something intriguing to Mamet about the power of a woman in a man’s world, this is the one play in which he explores women’s power over each other (and their support for one another), in an undeniably “feminine” chintz covered New England drawing room.

 

And the set is exquisite. It’s not as intimate as we might have expected, and nor should it be, the imposing columns standing as the rest of society might – just out of reach and privy to every word and deed from the fringes, if only for the entertainment of their highly critical self entitled social circles.

 

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Designer, Stephen Curtis, has created an ancient temple of love sans decay and crumbling stone because everything here has, of course, cost a pretty penny. Of course, not one cent of it is Anna’s (Amanda Muggleton); she has attracted the attention of a married man who “keeps” her. He doesn’t know it, but the bargain Anna has struck with him is part of her attempt to re-snare her lifelong friend, Claire (Rachel Gordon). Claire stops by to ask if she may bring her young friend to the apartment and if she may have Anna’s assistance in the seduction of the pretty young thing. Anna, being the cheeky c…. cat that she is, agrees to assist her, er, dear friend, as long as she may watch.

 

A maid from the Orkney Islands (Helen Cassidy) bears the brunt of the couple’s learned upper class malice and, it should be said, their ignorance about anybody other than themselves. Insert mistaken Irish heritage banter and plenty of potato famine jokes here. The plot – what little there is of it – takes a turn when it is discovered that the young friend and the married man are connected, and the maid is accused of stealing an emerald necklace gifted to Anna by the gentleman.

 

 

“It is the writer’s job to make the play interesting. It is the actor’s job to make the performance truthful.”

David Mamet

 

 

These women are aggressive, they are written that way and many lines are delivered in bold, brassy, sassy terms. Some are shouted. Sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it ain’t. These well-heeled Edwardian women know what they want and they know they can have it…or can they? There are lovely moments of vulnerability and tenderness, giving us glimpses into another side to these beautifully crafted characters, but they are short-lived and ultimately, we see the women as Mamet sees them, through a man’s eyes. Interestingly, each is aware – of course she is – of the other’s immense suffering but even under the guise of refinement and polite conversation (not to mention the intimacy and respect of a long-standing relationship), some comments and criticisms cannot be undone. But they can be accepted…

 

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Helen Cassidy, as the Scottish maid Catherine, delivers a nicely measured performance of physical comedy and tempered timing (although there are a couple of times when the pause following most entrances is a touch too long). To her merit, Cassidy’s performance prompted after the show the story of a production elsewhere, in which the long-term subscriber telling the tale HAD NOT ACTUALLY REMEMBERED THE MAID IN THE SHOW. In stark contrast, Cassidy’s performance is unforgettable. If we were going to do old-school character arcs with secondary students, we’d look at Cassidy’s maid. Hers is quite the journey.

 

 

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Rachel Gordon is truly radiantly beautiful (she could have been a face of Lancome…she might be yet!), and there are times when her lusty, wanton manner of speaking drops to a delicious purr, up there (down there?) with Eartha Kitt and Meow Meow. She’s the perfect foil for Amanda Muggleton, who is just as fabulous as we had expected her to be, perhaps more so. In sharpening the edge of every word and playing up every nuance between them, Muggleton creates a character better than even Mamet might have imagined. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t help feeling I wish I’d seen more of her recent touring work.

 

QTC Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, spoke after the show about David Walters’ lighting design in terms of a fragrance. He was spot on. He explained that it has its base notes, heart notes and top notes. I would go so far as to say Walters’ lighting lends an oriental woody feel to the production: woody, honey base notes, patchouli, lily and pine heart notes, and jasmine and rose top notes. It’s a work of art. It all feels as if IT’S VERY EXPENSIVE.

 

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I think this is the best way to look at Boston Marriage overall – it’s a loud, lovely looking work of art, a savvy contemporary collector’s piece, brimming with ascorbic wit and some very obscure references (by all means, glance at the glossary in your program but don’t spoil your evening by poring over it!). It will appeal to some and be a source of irritation for others. Unfortunately, it has to be said, the final moments are disappointing; the ending is surprisingly droll rather than superbly passionate. I feel it’s misjudged, or underplayed. It doesn’t need to be salacious, just delicious enough to make us leap to our feet for a shaky standing ovation after we’ve taken a moment to gather ourselves. Instead, the final moments are like a terrific third date that inexplicably ends with the same awkward car-side kiss as the first! Oh well!

 

Boston Marriage has so much good and gorgeous going on (you simply must see Amanda Muggleton at the top of her game) that it’s well worth experiencing this one yourself, no matter what anyone says.

 

Images by Rob Maccoll

03
Sep
14

The Furze Family Variety Hour

 

brisbanefestival2014

 

The Furze Family Variety Hour

deBASE Productions

Judith Wright Centre

September 2 – 7 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

The Furze Family Variety Hour promises pies in faces. And it’s pies in faces we get, even if for no other reason than “pies in faces are funny.” Also, nakedness is funny. But this kind of family friendly “nakedness”, and a wild rumpus dished up as the finale, are even funnier than you’re imagining…

 

It purports to be a family show – or does it? It’s the Furze Family’s Ginger and Red taking to the stage to entertain us in the best way they know how. It goes along the lines of, “Make ‘em laugh!” And they do. In the timeless tradition of the likes of Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis, this duo appeared to be testing the waters with their opening night audience on Tuesday night. One of the first comedy cabs outta’ the rank this Brisbane Festival, the pressure to impress is real, but the season is relatively short, so I imagine the rewards will be great, regardless of critical opinion. The general response is already favourable because PIES IN FACES GUYS. And there’s a lot more besides.

 

 

These two multi-faceted performers are old-school style truly delightful; they’re cheeky and a little bit naughty. Leon Cain (Red) and Helen Cassidy (Ginger) are the brother and sister team that offers, true to form, a variety of vaudeville inspired entertaining acts. At times I feel the pace lags a little but nobody else seems to notice. Anyway, I’m convinced that Helen Cassidy has one of the most radiant faces in the world so whenever I start to feel a little impatient I look at her and she glows in a genuinely born for the spotlight sorta’ way. Cain manages to keep a wicked gleam in his eyes even when, or perhaps especially when, a scene requires some pretend pathos, so it doesn’t hurt to glance his way either.

 

A classic picnic skit, perfectly measured and polished, allows a new relationship to blossom and honours the timeless comic traditions of slapstick, surprise and the sharing of secrets or asides with the audience. This sequence highlights the director’s light hand and her trust in the actors, as well as her attention to minute detail and comic timing. A more relaxed musical interlude indulges our tendencies towards sibling rivalry, and a traditional lion tamer act turns into a Thank God You’re Here segment when a member of the audience is called upon to play the role of, you guessed it, the lion. “He’s so beautiful. But so stoopid!” He did very well in fact! Was he a plant? It doesn’t matter! We don’t care because FUNNY.

 

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And my favourite act; Wendy the blow up doll becomes a stand in for Jennifer Grey in a riotous Dirty Dancing send up. For those of you sharing a cabaret table with kids (#isitjustme), you may wish you’d accepted the Furze Family part of the title for what it was, rather than assume this would be a “family” show. I got out of answering any tricky sex accessory questions because Poppy simply thought this sequence was hilarious. And it was! She recognised all the moves! That’s my girl! Cain’s commitment to this scene, his manipulation of his dance partner, and his mastery of the iconic choreography makes this the highlight of the night.

 

Poppy said The Dance of Love was funny too, when the boy played the girl and the girl played the boy until we got dizzy watching their clever coat changes. She loved Cassidy’s many voices, including her sweet singing voice, and having just come from Opera Australia and John Frost’s Anything Goes launch event at QPAC, at which we had heard from Caroline O’Connor and Claire Lyon, that is high praise indeed! And the use of song, or as Poppy puts it, poems sung – some we knew, like Moses supposes his toeses are roses but Moses supposes erroneously (she said to write the whole thing and embed the video, Mum; it’s so good!) – and some we didn’t (original music composed by David Megarrity & Samuel Vincent with Kellee Green). It was so funny because they would be talking and suddenly they would start singing a song.

 

 

Also, the (balloon) sword-swallowing act was hilarious yet it didn’t seem quite real… #theadventuresofpoppy

 

But the show splits itself right down the middle. On one hand we have our skits; a collection of mini narratives with pie-in-the-face punchlines (metaphorically only until the finale), and on the other hand we have a formally introduced segment, “The Rules of Comedy”, which could almost be the premise that got lost along the way. The structure of this segment could potentially serve to strengthen the entire show. Alternatively, put a red pen to it and keep this part short and sweet like everything preceding it (and get to the pies!).

 

I’m delighted to relay that the opening night crowd on Tuesday filled the Judith Wright Centre’s Shopfront with laughter but I fear I may need a slightly more sophisticated return season before I’m completely convinced about this one. It’s possible that the Furze Family simply needs to find new audiences for a while in our favourite regional centres. There’s no doubt they’d develop a following, and easily give the cousins, Ivan and Juniper, a run for their money in the sprint to host industry events each year. It would also be interesting to gauge the response of the after dark Woodford Folk Festival crowd. I ‘reckon Director, Bridget Boyle, and deBASE Productions are onto something but I don’t think this is it…yet.

 

It’s the cheeky and charismatic camaraderie, as well as the extraordinary individual comic talents of Cain and Cassidy that win me over in the end. And it’s for the entertainment value of these two talented performers that you should see The Furze Family Variety Hour in this format during this festival. Next, I’d love to see some stronger material delivered at breakneck speed to turn this hour of vaudevillian fun into a classic smash hit!

 

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27
Feb
12

la boite’s shakespeare: as you like it

As You Like It 

La Boite Theatre Company

The Roundhouse

18.02.12 – 24.03.12

La Boite’s theatre is perfect for Shakespeare: it’s open and alive and allows actors and audiences to come together to share the joy.”

La Boite Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, David Berthold.

Have you ever been a part of Woodford Folk Festival’s shared joy? For the first show of La Boite’s 2012 season, David Berthold has brought a little bit of Woodford to The Roundhouse Theatre and it’s truly wonderful. The Forest of Arden IS Woodfordia and Berthold’s As You Like It is full to overflowing with the same joy, love and good karma. Bill Hauritz will be pleased.

Boasting exceptional performances and containing the best bit of fight choreography we’ve seen at La Boite, indeed; the best we’ve seen in Brisbane in a good while, by (Lead Fight Director this time) Justin Palazzo-Orr, this is a show for everybody. It’s funny and witty and heaps of fun. We are reminded by this play, that Shakespeare’s writing is so good, not only does it stand the test of time but also, it continues to appeal to all sorts.

Probably the most convoluted of the comedies, with a massive cast – in terms of programming, it often loses out to the more popular Twelfth Night – the plot of As You Like It may be unfamiliar. In simplest terms, the love story is central: girl meets boy, they fall instantly in love, girl disguises herself as boy, boy meets girl disguised as boy and they hang out in the forest together, become mates and wed, the girl’s true identity revealed on their nuptial day. Duke Senior and his merry men also inhabit the forest – their commitment is more permanent, their lifestyle a good deal greener and they provide much of the perspective of the play.

Director, David Berthold and Designer, Renee Mulder, have created, with suits and city skirts and jeans and flannel shirts, the look and feel of last year’s Woodford. Woodford has changed since its humble beginnings in the Maleny show grounds and the new mood has been perfectly captured. Rosalind (the remarkable Helen Howard) and Celia (Helen Cassidy) wear black, Cue-style suits and the latest season’s chunky suede shoes, which is just as well, because in narrower heels it’s a challenge to tread the shredded playground rubber that covers the floor of the theatre. As the god, Hymen, in his glittering, high-heeled disco diva boots, Alec Snow is a standout amongst student interns and puts to shame with his confident strut, many of the women in the audience (no offence, no-less-confident women in the audience. It’s just that Snow got to rehearse and as such, he looks to be a contender for the next run of Priscilla)!

Centre stage is a circular dais, which suddenly rises, in a simple, beautiful and breathtaking reveal, earning surprised applause from the opening night audience. Colourful lanterns, indie folk music (props to vocalist Lucy-Ann Langkilde, ready for a Chai Tent chalkboard gig), Tony O’Connor style forest sounds by Composer and Sound Designer Guy Webster and pretty, dreamy lighting, all amber and blue and pink, thanks to David Walters’ trek-out-to-the-Amphitheatre-after-the-Lantern-Parade-passes-by inspired lighting design, all combine to bring the magic of Arden Forest to our midst.

It’s not just the design that is stunning. The performances are superb. We can see the company at work on the next generation of actors, with a stronger focus on training and mentorship this year (there are eight interns in this production), doing their bit to close the gap between accomplished performers and the new, eager actors. Holding their own, in that middle ground where the graduates dwell, are Luke Cadden and Dominic Nimo, in their La Boite debuts.

Bryan Probets, as the jester Touchstone, manages to steal the show early on and later, whips up the audience in a riotous chorus; an old-fashioned, call and answer, effortlessly interactive theatre moment. His comedy is cleverly marked and he appears completely relaxed – delighted in fact – to be entertaining us. How lucky are we? The other exquisite moment in this piece belongs to Trevor Stuart, as Jaques. His delivery of the famed “All the world’s a stage” seven ages of man monologue is magnificent. If it has never stayed with you before, it will linger with you now.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like a snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Kate Wilson and Hayden Spencer, play their parts beautifully; the first, kind and wise and generous as Duke Senior, as comfortable in the forest digs here as if it were home, high on the Range, and the second, the mincing miss shepherdess, Audrey, in his hippie mountain chic attire, posing and pouting to make us laugh ‘til we cry. Kathryn Marquet brings Phoebe to life.

Helen Cassidy is a lovely Celia and she is well paired with Helen Howard as Rosalind. These two are a celebration of the sisterhood! Howard is a striking woman and it’s easy to watch her every move. That being said, it’s just as easy to be completely distracted by the Adonis good looks of the Bard Boy of Brisbane, Thomas Larkin, in the role of Orlando. We’ve seen his naked torso for some time now, in an image for his upcoming role (Romeo) in QTC’s Romeo and Juliet. But you know this. You’ve seen the poster and you’ve had your say on Twitter too, I’ll warrant. For those who have been living under a tree at Woodford, Larkin’s co-star, Melanie Zanetti, looking extremely young (just as Shakespeare intended… half her luck) has been the subject of some controversy, stirred by a single complaint from a woman on the Gold Coast. While I look forward to seeing him in Romeo and Juliet, as Orlando, we see Larkin in his best role to date.

As You Like It is a show of superlatives. Whether or not ideas are borrowed, this is a brilliant interpretation; it doesn’t miss a beat. If you’re feeling like a bit of a lift, this is the best show you can see in Brisbane this month. It’s gorgeous, guaranteed to please. It’s what the world needs now; love, sweet love, and pure, unadulterated Woodford-all-year-round shared joy. Do yourself a favour and see this one. It’s guaranteed to reinvigorate your soul and warm the cockles of your heart.